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Media Advisory: Nonviolent Action Planned to Stop New Frack Water Withdrawals from the Susquehanna

March 14, 2012
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For Immediate Release: March 13, 2012

Attention: Reporters on energy, environment, social and economic justice, Marcellus Shale gas drilling, Pennsylvania politics

What: Protectors Plan Nonviolent Action to Prevent Further Water Withdrawal Permits for Fracking in the Susquehanna  River Basin
When: Thursday March 15th, 8:30 AM
Where: North Office Building, Hearing Room 1 (Ground Level), North Street (at Commonwealth Avenue) Harrisburg, PA 17120

Why:

  • The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) plans to accelerate unconventional gas fracking in the Susquehanna River watershed, which provides drinking water to millions of people, by approving dozens of new permits for water withdrawals this Thursday, March 15th. The governors of the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York, along with President Obama, are each represented by a Commissioner; until now, all four Commissioners have voted to approve almost every water withdrawal for fracking which has come before them.
  • The water withdrawals opposed by activists use the controversial new combination of technologies collectively referred to as “fracking,” or high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling. According to a growing number of engineers, health professionals, hydrogeologists, biochemists, and ecologists, the life cycle impacts of shale gas drilling are inherently unsafe for air, water, land (forests, farms and foodsheds), climate, animal and human health.
  • A growing number of economists, including Janette Barth, PhD (NY) and Deborah Rogers, PhD (TX) say that the boom-bust cycle and the “bubblenomics” of shale gas drilling will be more destructive to our economy than the short-term gains. The small temporary economic benefits are the only argument FOR shale gas drilling, as methane has been shown to be as bad or worse than coal for climate. The intensive and extensive damage to groundwater, air, surface waters, climate, and land is not remediable and must be counted as an incalculable economic loss.
  • The Commission plans to approve water withdrawals on Thursday without any cumulative impact study in the Basin, and without a Health Impacts Assessment related to shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania. There are currently 12 environmental violations per day, on average at Marcellus Shale gas drilling well pads and associated infrastructure (frack pits, compressor stations, pipelines, gas separator plants) in Pennsylvania.  A cumulative impact study should take the escalating violations very seriously, but no such study has been undertaken.
  • Many Pennsylvanians are reporting illnesses related to shale gas drilling, some of them severe; deaths have been reported due to chemical exposure from shale fracking in Western states.
  • This water use is consumptive; the water is withdrawn permanently from the hydrological cycle. Once chemically poisoned and injected deep underground, it stays underground or returns to the surface so toxic (called “flowback”) that it must be re-injected deep underground elsewhere, a costly process which has caused hundreds of small earthquakes (Arkansas, WVa, Ohio, TX).
  • At least ten organizations have called for a halt to water withdrawals for fracking in the Susquehanna River Basin. Sierra Club, Earthworks, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, and Clean Water Action issued a joint public statement demanding “a halt to further water withdrawals for fracking in the Susquehanna River Basin until a comprehensive, Basin-wide assessment of impacts is conducted and Maryland and New York have decided whether to move forward with the industry.” These four organizations, while opposing the withdrawals, are not calling for active disruption of Thursday’s meeting.
  • Municipal officials in Pennsylvania are angry about the pre-emption clause in HB1950, now law as Act 13 (the impact fee bill), which removes (pre-empts) their right to protect their residents from shale gas drilling through zoning and bans. Physicians and health workers are angry about the medical secrecy clause in Act 13, which violates medical ethics by requiring doctors to sign confidentiality agreements promising not to disclose what contaminants are involved when they are treating a patient made sick by gas drilling. These unjust laws must be reversed to protect public health, and no new permits should be issued under such extreme conditions of corporate control.

(Philadelphia) While large environmental groups across Pennsylvania call for a moratorium on water withdrawals to be used for fracking in the vital Susquehanna River watershed, a smaller handful of activists have expressed a willingness to nonviolently prevent the approval of dozens of water withdrawal permits at an SRBC hearing in Harrisburg this Thursday.

Advocates from across the state support the call to halt permitting water withdrawals in the Susquehanna River Basin. Organic farmer Stephen Cleghorn, PhD, of Reynoldsville, PA, commented, “The water withdrawals being voted on by the SRBC would enable the drilling of hundreds more wells in the Basin that put at risk of serious contamination a river system that supplies water to millions of people, as well as the critical Chesapeake Bay and all its life forms.” According to some estimates, Thursday’s vote represents enough water withdrawals for thousands more wells to be drilled and fracked.

Sarah Lowry, an organizer with Protecting Our Waters, said, To protect the Susquehanna River Basin, I am willing to exercise my First Amendment rights and stand up for what I believe in. This industry, which is carelessly and greedily attacking the earth around us and underneath us, polluting our water and air beyond repair, needs to know that we will fight to stop this irresponsible drilling, extraction, and use of a dead-end fossil fuel. I feel they have left us no choice but to defend ourselves and the earth.” Lowry added, “I don’t feel like I’m fighting SRBC, and I don’t want to antagonize the Commissioners,” she added, “but they’re not protecting the Susquehanna River Basin from the acute and long-range impacts of gas drilling, fracking, processing and use. They’re not doing their job, so it’s our job now.”

Advocates see the vote as illegitimate, since Commissioners have failed to undertake or complete a cumulative impact study in the Susquehanna River Basin regarding the full life-cycle impacts of unconventional gas drilling, and appear to be ignoring public testimony opposing the acceleration and intensifying of fracking in the Basin made possible by these enormous water withdrawals.

Stephen Cleghorn asserts, “I sympathize with my friends living in the Basin. When the government acts to legally steal the common wealth of Pennsylvania for the private gain of corporations, then civil disobedience becomes a necessary corrective of the injustice being perpetrated upon the people and their living environment. On Thursday, wherever we live in Pennsylvania, we all live in the Basin.” Cleghorn’s farm is just over the western edge of the Susquehanna River Basin, in the Ohio River Basin. Lowry lives in the Delaware River Basin.

Some of those hoping to prevent the water withdrawals’ approval on Thursday have stated that they do so out of the motivation to protect human and animal health, as well as to protect current and future generations from known toxic impacts to air, water, land, climate, and long-term damage to the PA economy. Others have focused on rural Pennsylvanians’ rights: loss of property values, violation of rural residents’ access to safe water, threats to farms, and the wholesale destruction of a way of life which has included abundant wildlife and rural beauty. Some include “all of the above” in their motivation.

Deirdre Lally, who lives in the Susquehanna River Basin, said that as a public health worker and as a member of a family who leased their land, she is highly motivated to take preventive action. “I wish no disrespect to the SRBC; I’m sure the staff consists of dedicated professionals,” she said. “But unfortunately a ‘yes’ vote on these water withdrawals for fracking would mean the Commissioners have devalued human health and committed an act which will deprive Pennsylvanians of clean air, clean water, good health, and the public right to know which chemicals are poisoning us. We must not allow this illegitimate vote to proceed. Like physicians, we are dedicated to an ethic that says: ‘First, Do No Harm.’”

Contact: Iris Marie Bloom, Protecting Our Waters, protectingourwaters@gmail.com

More information: protectingourwaters.com & savethesusquehanna.wordpress.com

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